England: Are Wenger and Arsenal doomed to fail yet again?
This was supposed to be the season when Arsenal FC was to benefit from Arsène Wenger’s policy of matching limited spending with upholding the ethos of giving youth a chance. Only a couple of weeks ago Arsenal fans were quietly hopeful that anything from a single League Cup triumph to an amazing quadruple of Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Champions League could be on the cards as the club was progressing well in all four competitions. Sadly for all Gunners fans it seems that the club could slowly be losing momentum at a time when they should be gaining it and their latest elimination from Europe’s top club competition by FC Barcelona could hit them harder than they think.
Arsenal FC haven’t won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup final triumph against Manchester United and have yet to lift silverware since playing in the Emirates Stadium, their home since 2006. For a club who have made great investment off the pitch the fans are starting to become impatient at the lack of investment and reward on the pitch as manager Arsène Wenger sticks to his guns in refusing to splash the cash on big name players, preferring to place faith in youth players either developed or bought from other clubs. But despite the progress of players such as Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Niklas Bendtner the Gunners are lacking strength in key areas. The absence of a top class centre half, a warrior in the heart of the midfield, a prolific goalscorer and a world class keeper are the key concerns for a club who are vastly underachieving.
Fans of most other clubs would be desperate to have the sort of team that Arsenal possess with their football being some of the most impressive in European football but it was they who were put in their place on Tuesday night by an FC Barcelona team who have made an art form out of possession football and who can press any team to death when they don’t have the ball. Having won the first leg 2-1 in London, Arsenal FC were hoping to go into the second leg having learnt the lessons of twelve months earlier when Lionel Messi inspired his team to a crushing 4-1 win over Arsenal in the Camp Nou. Sadly for the North London outfit they hardly saw any of the ball with virtually all of the action taking place in Arsenal’s half of the field. The home side had 20 shots at goal whilst Arsenal didn’t have a meaningful shot all night; indeed FC Barcelona even had the good grace to score a goal for them. Following Messi’s opening goal on the stroke of half-time Arsenal restored parity on the night to 1-1 in the 53rd minute after Sergio Busquets put through his own net to allow the visitors to restore an aggregate lead of 3-2. Arsenal’s night would get difficult however when Robin Van Persie was sent off having been shown a second yellow card in the 56th minute after he shot the ball when failing to hear the referee’s whistle following an offside call. Despite Arsenal’s bad luck on that occasion it was only a matter of time until Barcelona ran them further into the ground with goals from Xavi and Messi (pen) in the last twenty minutes putting paid to the Gunners’ Champions League hopes for another year.
But it wasn’t the manner of the sending off that should concern anybody connected with the club it was the manner of how Arsenal, for the second consecutive year, went to the Camp Nou and were taught a lesson in keeping possession and breaking down defences in a way which they usually do to teams back home. Despite regular UEFA Champions League football the club is forever failing in Europe and, without a meaningful European trophy in Arsène Wenger’s sixteen years in charge, some fans are now starting to publicly question whether it is time to finally replace the man at the helm. On the domestic front Arsenal just can’t seem to overtake league leaders Manchester United despite the Old Trafford club losing three times in their last five games. Arsenal also recently lost the first big cup final of the season after a defensive calamity between keeper Wojciech Szczęsny and centre half Laurent Koscielny gifted Obafemi Martins the winning goal and saw Arsenal go down to a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Birmingham City. With the FA Cup quarter final match to Manchester United iminent the priority for Wenger is to go to Old Trafford and get a result and, at the same time, strike a psychological blow in the race for the Premier League title. Should Arsenal lose to United on Saturday then that could be the ultimate hammer blow to their chances of any success this season.